Senior Health Reporter
The national campaign against Covid-19 should not cut back the campaign to slash the incidence of tuberculosis, which remains one of Zimbabwe's major public health threats, Minister of Health and Child Welfare Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said yesterday during a virtual summit on World TB Day.
But the pandemic had slowed down progress in the national TB response.
"This negative impact of Covid-19 is mainly related to stigma and reduced accessibility to health services leading to delays in TB diagnosis and treatment initiation. TB and Covid 19 have a similarity in that both are respiratory in nature. There is need to guard against the likelihood of missing TB in some patients who would be mimicking Covid 19.
"Our efforts and focus on Covid-19 should not make us forget that TB remains one of our major public health threats. The realisation calls for expansion and acceleration of integrated approaches given the similarity of some of the symptoms and signs of the two conditions," he said.
This year's commemorations were held under the theme 'The clock is ticking', emphasising the need for governments to move to fulfil commitments made towards defeating TB.
The United Nations sustainable development goal number three targets a 90 percent reduction in TB deaths, an 80 percent reduction in TB incident rate and ensuring all TB affected families are no longer facing catastrophic costs when accessing TB treatment by 2030.
This will lead countries to meeting the WHO deadline of 2035 to eradicate TB.
Zimbabwe is among the top eight African countries in the World's top 30 countries heavily burdened by TB, TB associated with HIV and multi-drug-resistant TB.
The most affected groups are women in the reproductive age group of 15 years to 44 years and men.
Dr Chiwenga said Government had made significant progress in reducing the TB incidence rate from 242 per 100 000 in 2015 to a rate of 199 per 100 000 in 2019.
"Now more than ever we should redouble our support to raise awareness on TB, enhance the community and health system capacities. The initiative will reduce morbidity and mortalities from this disease for our population," he said.
The mortality rate in TB patients was high last year with most deaths occurring in Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Midlands and Bulawayo provinces.
The Vice President also said the collaboration between HIV and TB in health service provision continued to be of importance as Zimbabwe's TB epidemic is largely HIV-driven.
"As the country inches towards the last mile of finding missed TB cases, there is need for more targeting of priority groups to optimise yield. There has been a rapid scale-up of new diagnostic technologies for prompt diagnosis and treatment of TB and drug resistant TB," said VP Chiwenga.
Deputy Director HIV, AIDS and TB programmes in the Ministry of Health Dr Charles Sandy said an estimated 6 160 to 10 640 cases were missed in 2019 and the figure was likely higher last year. But efforts to reach 100 percent treatment coverage were on track.
World Health Organisation country representative Dr Alex Gasasira commended Government for its efforts to reduce the TB burden by implementing strong strategies and programmes aimed at increasing domestic funding for health, which are articulated in the National Development Strategy 1.
He said progress in the WHO Africa region however remained slower than the milestones set for 2020.
"Only 56 percent of people with TB are on treatment and TB control budgets continue to be drastically underfunded. Governments are contributing an average 24 percent of their budgets for TB control and international partners are providing an average 34 percent, leaving a 24 percent funding gap," he said.
All stakeholders should work together to ensure the effective implementation of the national TB Strategic Plan 2021-2025 to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals targets for TB.